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Letter: Iran's path to a nuclear weapon not all that easy

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Aside from the economy, one of the major current news stories is Iran's accumulation of enough material for one or more nuclear bombs.

Actually, Iran is producing low enriched uranium at its Natanz centrifuge facility. This stuff is not useful for a weapon, and Natanz would have difficulty getting to weapons-grade uranium 235.

If Iran wants a bomb, the easier approach is with plutonium and a special purpose reactor to make it out of plentiful un-enriched natural uranium. Iran has such a reactor, the heavy water 40 MW unit at Arak, about 160 miles from Tehran.

It's no coincidence that India's Cirrus reactor, Pakistan's Khushab reactor and Israel's Dimona reactor are all heavy-water reactors. Fueled by natural uranium, these reactors don't require their owners to go to the laborious effort of enriching uranium fuel to weapons grade. Heavy water is better than ordinary light water in allowing more neutrons to reach the uranium nucleus to make plutonium.

North Korea's publicized 5 MW reactor at Yongbyon, while moderated with graphite rather than heavy water, is also fueled with natural uranium.

But after producing plutonium, you still have a very sophisticated engineering task to make an effective weapon. North Korea apparently didn't get it right, and their test caused a premature blast which was a dud by nuclear standards.

Israel knows all this. So if a fleet of Israeli aircraft heads for Iran, I suggest that Arak, not Natanz, will be their destination.

Rolf E. Westgard

Deerwood, Minn.

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